Did you get water?

... my advice - get a pump

by Ed Wright

From May 15 through May 17, 2006 it was possible to start an animated conversation with total strangers in any downtown coffee shop in Melrose, Massachusetts. All you needed to do was ask "Did you get any water?" Everyone understood the question and everybody had a story of personal troubles caused by the relentless four day rainstorm which overwhelmed our city.

As my wife Helen and I drove home from a family party in a drenching rain on Saturday, May 13th, we had no clue as to the challenges which were about to confront us. We had lived in our home on Mystic Avenue for forty-five years with nothing more that a few damp spots on the basement floor during previous rainstorms. We watched with compassion as two houses across the street flooded in storm after storm.

This day we routinely checked our basement when we got home. Sure enough those friendly old damp spots were there again: the next morning I checked again and found myself wading in water up to my ankles. After a brief moment of denial where we imagined everything would dry out by itself, we started frantically trying to bail the cellar out by filling small buckets with water which we tossed out into our driveway.

This tactic failed miserably as the water rushing in through the back wall of the cellar was rapidly increasing in volume. High anxiety set in as we imagined that in a short time our furnace, water heater, washing machine and drier would be incapacitated by the ever-rising tide of water. We were now desperately trying to come up with a plan that would save our basement from being totally engulfed.

These are the things that we learned as we battled to save our cellar from total destruction:

1.  We learned when we called the Public Works Department hoping that they would come to pump out our cellar that they didn't have the manpower to pump out water flooding basements all over the city. However, they were able to respond to a real emergency like sewerage backing up into your house.

2.  To remove water from your cellar you need a pump. That sounds simple and obvious. But the basic question facing you is: where do you find a store that has any pumps left to sell in an emergency like this historic rainstorm? People had been lining up at stores like the Home Depot since six in the morning, praying to get one of the few pumps available. We had the good fortune to find a store in downtown Melrose, Whittemore Hardware, that was about to receive a shipment of 140 pumps.

I joined a long line of anxious citizens waiting to buy a pump at Whittemore's. All of the pump-waiters were filled with adrenalin as they told their stories about the unbelievable damage to their homes by the storm. I immediately realized that the damage done to our cellar was a drop in the bucket, to coin a phrase, compared to what had happened to my companions in line.

There was, however, a community spirit to our anxious waiting. We were, after all, in the same boat. Every time the hardware store opened to reveal someone coming out carrying their pump a cheer rippled through the crowd. As a new pump owner exited the store door, controlled by a kindly gentleman, would open to allow the next person in line to enter.

3.  You discover that your insurance policy does not cover ground water flooding your cellar. You have to be engulfed by a river or an ocean to qualify for benefits.

4. After you have your cellar dried out enough so that someone can come and check out your water heater do not bother to call the gas company. They will only tell you to get a plumber.

5.  There is a difference in the way a flooding rainstorm affects the victims and the way a snowstorm affects them. Most of the snowstorm problems deal with how you can get to work or the grocery store if your car is snowbound. A flooded basement is a direct threat to your property and things such as heat and electricity are required for daily living. Flooding is therefore much more anxiety-producing.

At any rate, by using the pump and with the help of our youngest son Gerry, who opened a hole through the step leading from the cellar into the garage through which water also drained out, we were able to dry out the cellar.

On Tuesday, May 15th, we received a telephone call from our oldest son Ed who had luckily selected this time to go with his wife Janet to Aruba. He said that they had seen pictures on CNN National TV News of the flooding on the Lynn Fells Parkway in front of the Melrose High School and Middle School. He was checking to see if Helen and I were OK. At that point we were relaxed and in control for the situation - we were OK.

At this time everything was fine in our cellar but around the city of Melrose many groups of people were still struggling with the ongoing damage and destruction caused by the relentless rain. The Julian Steele House, an elderly apartment house, and the Melrose Towers were evacuated, with residents moved to two nearby hotels. All schools were shut down for three days and sewage backup continued to raise havoc in private homes.

The local news channels, 4, 5, 6 and 7 had reporters covering towns and cities in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on an hourly basis. Melrose was always part of the coverage.

Finally, on May 17th, the rain stopped and the sun came out. For those of you who did not experience flooding in your home this time, I have one bit of advice: "Be Prepared - Buy a Pump."

As for my wife and myself, we hope we won't have to deal with this problem for another 45 years. At that time I will be 125 years old and by then somebody will have invented a machine that sends air currents through the cellars and evaporates all the water in three minutes - Deo Volente.

June 2, 2006

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